AN END OF DARKNESS

Chapter 13

This had been a day such as none of them, whether of Li’is or Ma’al, had ever experienced, but now it was drawing to a close. Dusk had fallen, and since the Prayer Room could not accommodate all who had thronged the Gatehouse, Aiel led them in the Evening Prayers in the Great Hall, Perceiving as he did so the gladness of the refugees at being able to partake openly in the Prayers. After the Prayers, more food was prepared and given out. Aiel knew that Arentha and Krystha were among those helping to prepare the meals, for many hands were needed. Preference was of course given to the refugees, the others could eat later and the people of Ma’al were tired from their journey and experiences and would soon need to sleep. Rentha used the wait to visit the Healing Place and see that all was well with Corhan. She was surprised when the attendants told her that he had not yet woken. “But he was exhausted” she said, “and I do not think they used sweetwood in Ma’al, so maybe it had a stronger effect on him than usual. The sleep will not harm him.” She had just left the Healing Place when she heard her name called “Lady Rentha!” and turned to see Saban coming towards the Healing Place. His expression was a mixture of concern and excitement, and guessing his errand she asked “Daria?” “Yes, Lady. She thinks the babe is coming.” “One moment” she told him, and stepped back inside the Healing Place to take a flask of prepared blueroot from the Healers’ bench, then came out again to ask “Where is she?” “In the camp,” he replied.

Rentha followed Saban out of the Gatehouse and along the path to the wildflower meadow, where he held the small gate open for her to enter. It was quite dark now, and across the meadow lamps glowed inside the tents and small fires burned between them. It was a familiar sight to Rentha, half of Western stock and used to scenes like these when visiting her mother’s family. Saban led her to the tent he and Daria were sharing, and they went in. The travelling tents of the Westerners were built for groups of herdsmen and quite spacious, well appointed with cushions and coverings. Daria was sitting on one of the big cushions, and seemed quite calm, indeed she looked up and smiled at Rentha as the Healer entered. Rentha smiled back and said “So, the little one is impatient to enter Li’is? How early?” “Little more than a week, by the time of Ma’al.” Daria answered. “I have felt some small pains these last couple of days, but thought it was the discomfort of being cramped in the carts. They grow stronger now, though.” “Good”, Rentha said. “All will be well with the babe, then.” Daria seemed about to speak, but paused and took a deep breath. Rentha guessed that another pain was running its course, and Daria, when asked, confirmed it. When it had subsided she asked.”How is it with Corhan, Lady?” “He is sleeping still, but that will do him only good. I think you do not use sweetwood in Ma’al? It may be that because of that it works more strongly on Corhan.” “I had never heard of sweetwood” Saban told her , “until Karis and Karlin used it to overcome the mercenaries who held a Lightfriend captive.” Rentha raised her eyebrows. “I have yet to hear that tale!” she smiled, “But you need not concern yourself, Daria. Corhan is safe, and you are our concern now. And please, call me Rentha – I am not used to such formality!” She showed Daria the flask of blueroot, and said “I do not know if you use this in Ma’al, either. It is blueroot, and we use it in birthing. When the pains grow strong it will ease them, without harming you or the babe.” Daria nodded. “I trust you, Rentha” she said. “I know you would not harm me.”

Rentha had expected a long night’s work, but Daria’s labour progressed surprisingly quickly. The Malani was strong and healthy and dealt well with her pain, and it was not until the pains came quickly together that Rentha had recourse to the draught of blueroot to ease them for her. Saban too was calm and helpful, supporting and comforting his wife, encouraging her and rubbing her back. Rentha felt a sense of excitement too, realising that this would be the first child born of Ma’al but into the freedom of Li’is. She concentrated on her work, telling Daria when to allow her body to take over, and when to pause. Soon Daria indicated that she felt the birth was imminent, and Rentha guided her through. Daria was groaning, but with effort, not pain, and her strength was apparent. Now Rentha could see the top of the little head, and told Daria to follow her instructions exactly. Daria obeyed, and Rentha was able to bring the babe smoothly and safely to birth. Daria , with one last effort, delivered her child, and Rentha quickly attended to the babe and turned to the Malani, smiling, to say, “You have a son, Daria, Saban! You did well, Daria, I wish all mothers I had delivered had been as calm as you!” “A son!” Saban exclaimed. ” Though I would have been as happy with a daughter, as long as you were both well, my love!” he added. “I am very happy” Daria said, as Rentha placed the newborn in her arms. “Thank you, Rentha. Will you tell Corhan?” “I will, as soon as he wakes. I am glad to have been here, Daria, to see the first of your children born to the freedom of Li’is.” “Oh, yes!” Daria gasped. “I had not thought – our son is born to freedom in Light, Saban! What a blessing of Light!” Rentha finished her tending of Daria and her babe, and gently refused Saban’s offer to escort her back to the Gatehouse. “I will be safe enough” she told him. “This is not Ma’al! Stay and look after Daria, and enjoy your babe. But call me if there is need, though I do not expect any.” “I will. Thank you again, Lady – I mean, Rentha.”

Rentha walked back to the Gatehouse, smelling the night scents of the Gardens. There was plenty of light, for both moons had risen and were near full. She should have felt tired, but her mind was still alert and active, happy for Saban and Daria, and wondering about Corhan, and if he had woken. As she approached the door of the Gatehouse the Watchward there looked at her with surprise. “You are out late, Lady”, he commented, then, seeing her Healer’s sack, asked with concern “Is all well in the camp?” Rentha smiled, and said “Very well. I have been at a birth, and it is well with mother and child. A boy-child, and the first son of Ma’al to be born in Li’is.” The Watchward grinned. “Praise Light! A good night’s work, Lady.” He opened the door for her and Rentha went in. She hesitated, then went quickly to the Healing Place. She had the flask of blueroot to replace, after all, and she might just see how Corhan fared while she was there. An attendant was seated outside, and told her that Corhan had woken and taken some food and drink, but was now sleeping again. Rentha thanked him and handed him the flask to return to the Healers’ bench, then went to find the room she had been allocated. Space was limited, and she was once more sharing with Moondancer, but also with Whitestar. She went in quietly, and found they had left the lamp burning for her. The twins looked soundly asleep , curled in identical positions. As she prepared to sleep, Rentha tried to move silently, so as not to wake them, but she had reckoned without their Perception. Moondancer stirred, then sat up. “Rentha! Where were you? We were concerned.” Whitestar , beside her, leaned up on one elbow and added.”Have you been busy all night?” Rentha smiled at them. “Indeed I have! Saban came to call me. Daria has given birth, and they have a boy-child. All is well with them both.” “Praise Light!” the other girls said, almost in unison. “Corhan, too, has woken and taken nourishment, so they told me at the Healing Place. He is sleeping again now.” Rentha added, knowing the special relationship of the Malani to the Lightfriends. She was feeling sleepy now, and , after bidding the twins good night, though it was nearer to morning, put out the lamp and climbed gratefully into her bed.

Unsurprisingly, Rentha slept late, and woke to find the twins had woken and gone, and she was feeling very hungry. Reflecting, she realised that she had missed last night’s meal as she had gone to help Daria, so she quickly got ready and went out into the Hall. She felt momentarily guilty that she had also missed the Morning Prayers, but she had a good reason for that. Once she had eaten, she decided to go back to the camp and see that all was well with the Malani, before she went to tend Corhan. The morning air was warm and fresh, and she enjoyed the walk through the Gardens to the wildflower meadow. She found Saban’s tent and called out to him. He came out, smiling, and invited her in, and she entered to find Daria contentedly nursing her babe. To Rentha’s enquiries, Daria replied that it was well with both her and her son, and thanked Rentha again for her help with the birth. Satisfied, Rentha turned to Saban, and asked, “Will you show me around the Malani camp, Saban? I can see if there are any needs, and would like to be able to tell Corhan how his people fare, when I return to tend him. ” “Of course!” Saban agreed, and they set off on a tour of the camp. Rentha found the Malani to be very thankful to be in Li’is, and glad of her interest, though she found, and tended, only minor problems. Saban said ” You are kind, Rentha, to take such an interest in the Malani.” “Ah, I have heard that you are a special people!” she answered. “It is I who should thank you, for your guardianship of my family’s Brothers-and-Sisters-in-Light of Ma’al, when we here knew nothing of them or the dangers they faced.” “Your people too, though, so Zarel said, were guardians of the Lightfriends once.” Saban replied. “Those who provided these shelters for us.” “Yes, my mother’s people, the Ketai.” Rentha told him. “Though nowadays they are known as the Westerners.” They returned to Saban’s tent, where Rentha bade farewell to him and Daria. Now she felt she could assure their Lord that all was well with his people, and that he could take the time he needed to rest and recover.

Aiel had been conferring with other members of the Council-at-Need. Later that day, they had decided, or perhaps the next, when everyone had grown used to being in Li’is, they would address the refugees and welcome them formally to Li’is, explaining the workings of life here and what options were open to them. Mellin, Janir and Lin were ready to accept any of the few Swordsmen who wished to join the Watch at the Harbour, or Mountain or Western Fortresses. For now, though, such considerations could wait. There were still needs to be met, and all of them, and their families, were eager to help. The hundreds of refugees needed food and clothing, and other necessities, since they had brought little or nothing with them from Ma’al. Karis and Karlin were among the helpers, glad to be of practical use now they had rested after the stress of the Way and the joy of returning and reunion. After he had helped with the distribution of food to the refugees from Ma’al, and eaten his own hasty meal, Karis, leaving Karlin with Janna, went to the Healing Place to see how Corhan was faring. He found Rentha there, standing at the foot of the dark Swordsman’s couch. Corhan was sleeping, and she was gazing down at him. Well, there was nothing unusual in that; she was a Healer, and he in her care, after all. Still, when Karis spoke her name, she started, and a quick flush rose in her cheeks, as though he had caught her in an impropriety.”How is it with my Sword-Brother, Rentha?” he asked. The flush faded, and she smiled at him. “It will be well with him, Karis. He has slept a great deal, for he was exhausted, and he had lost a fair amount of blood. But the wound is clean, no sign of Wound Fever, and he is very strong. A few days’ rest, and food and drink to build up his reserves of strength again, and he will be as fit as he ever was.” Karis nodded, and said ,”He saved my life in Ma’al, Rentha. It is – was – such a place of Darkness, even a Swordsman of Li’is could not have been prepared for all the dangers there. Twice Corhan saved my life.” “A Sword-Brother indeed!” the Healer answered, and looked again at Corhan’s sleeping face. Karis, remembering how certain Corhan had been that Rentha was his dream-maiden,said suddenly, “Rentha, if I ask you something, will you take it that I have good reason to ask, and not as an impertinence?”

She looked at him, puzzled, and said, “What is it that you want to ask me, Karis?” He replied softly, “Do you – or do you think you might – feel anything for Corhan?” The colour flew to her face again, and for a moment she would not look at him. “From anyone else, that would be an impertinence”, she murmured, ” and yet – oh, Karis, why do you ask?” “For a very good reason, Rentha. Will you tell me?” Though it was obvious, he thought, from her reaction, that she did have some feelings for Corhan. The Healer said, slowly, “Karis – yes, I do feel something, yet I cannot say what it is. I feel drawn to him, but I scarcely know him. I am afraid that it is only that he is strange to me – his – his beauty, his colouring, and what I have been told of his bravery, the fact that he fought against Darkness and has come out of Ma’al, in love of Light. Would it not be an insult to him to – to care for him only because of that? And what other reason can there be when I do not know him, have scarcely even spoken to him?” “I believe there is another reason, Rentha ” Karis said. He took her hand and gently drew her to one of the benches, and when they were seated he told her, quietly, about Corhan, and his dream, and how the dark Swordsman had been certain that Rentha was the maiden he had seen in his dream-vision. As she listened, Rentha’s dark eyes grew wide with astonishment, and when Karis had finished telling her about Corhan’s dream-vision, she glanced across at the sleeping man, then asked “And – and you believe I might be the maiden in Corhan’s dream, Karis?” ” I believe you are the maiden, Rentha! Corhan said that his vision was so vivid, he would know her as soon as he saw her. And when he saw you, he was certain.” “But he had been wounded, and was weak, near unconscious, he might not have been right.” “I am sure he was” Karis said. He did not for a moment believe that Rentha doubted it either, only that, as was her way, she wanted to be scrupulously fair and honest about the matter. Now she looked at him and said, with a hint of gentle reproach in her voice, “But was this not Corhan’s to tell me, Karis? Should you have said anything to me at all?” “I wondered that”, he confessed, “yet, in the end, I felt it wise, for two reasons. First, to reassure you that anything you might feel for Corhan was in the Will of Light for you, even though you have not known him long. And second, for Corhan himself. I think perhaps it will not be easy for him to tell you about his dream, and your part in it – even though you are a daughter of the Priesthood. If you are prepared, it may make it easier for him, and I know I can trust you not to mention it till he does, Rentha. He has been through so much, you see, ” Karis added, “they all have. The flight, the attacks, the fear of pursuit – and then to be carried to another world, to watch their own world die, to be unsure as yet of their place or their welcome in ours – it has been a great burden on these poor people. And Corhan must feel it all the more because of his responsibilities, since he is Lord of the Malani.”

There was a slight sound in the quiet room, and they turned to see Corhan beginning to stir from his sleep. Rentha rose and went to the Healers’ bench and , moving with quick efficiency, mixed a draught in a wooden bowl and carried it back to the couch. Karis caught a slight, sweet-sharp perfume from the bowl and recognised it as a reviving draught used after sickness. He had received it himself from Krystha after childhood ailments. He had gone to the foot of the couch and, leaning forward as Corhan’s black eyes opened, smiled, saying, “That is better! How is it with you, Sword-Brother?” “Well, I think”, the deep, musical voice replied, with a slight crack to it. “But I have a sore head, and a throat to match it.” “That is because you need to drink, Corhan”, Rentha said, appearing at his side with the bowl.”You have lost fluids from your body over the last few days, and they need replenishing. Karis, lift up your friend so that he can drink.” Karis obeyed, admiring Rentha’s coolness. Despite their conversation, she gave no indication that she knew anything about Corhan, or had any feelings for him. And this, Karis knew, was to protect Corhan, not herself. Corhan gazed at Rentha as she held the bowl to his lips, forgetting to drink as he took in all the details of her face. She smiled at him, and told him, “Drink the draught, Corhan. There is nothing in it to harm you.” He drank then, but automatically, his gaze still clinging to her face. She signalled to Karis to lower Corhan again, and the Lord of the Malani gave a great sigh, and said, “You are real! I thought I might have dreamed again. To dream of a dream, Karis – would that not be strange?” “You are not dreaming, Corhan ,my friend.” Karis said, softly. Rentha said, with a touch of pretended indignation, as though she had no idea what they were talking about,”Of course I am real! Do you not remember, Corhan? I am Rentha, Zarel’s sister. I am a Healer,and have been tending you. And,” she added, surprising Karis, who had not known, “I have been among your people, and it is well with them, most of them, save that they are weary and have been frightened by the journey. Saban has your camp well in hand, There is a child with a slight ailment, and a grandmother with swollen feet, nothing serious. I have tended them. And there is some good news for you!” “What is it?” Corhan asked, smiling up at her.”I have also been at a birthing. Your sister has borne a boy-child,” the Healer answered.”The babe came a little early, but all is well with them both. The first of your people to be born to your new world, Corhan. And you are an uncle.” “A boy!” Corhan exclaimed. “Daria was right, then, and her man and I were wrong. We told her, since she is such a strong woman, it would be a girl.” Quite suddenly, there were tears gleaming in the darkness of his eyes. “He will be the first of our children born to freedom of worship, in a world of Light!” Karis smiled gently,”A good thought, Corhan!” “Thanks to you, and Karlin, and most of all to Zarel, the Lightstone-Bearer.” Corhan said. “But for your obedience to Light, we would have perished with our world.” Karis shook his head firmly. “No. Light would have saved you somehow, with or without us. It would not have been permitted that the Children of Light should perish with the Children of Darkness.”

Corhan sat up suddenly, saying,”But I must go back to my people…”, but then he sank back again. “Do not move so quickly!” Rentha scolded him.”See, you have made yourself dizzy. You cannot return to the Malani yet, you are still a little weak and need rest and sustenance. I promise you that all is well with them. Wait till you are at full strength, for they are concerned for you, and if you go among them in a weakened state, you will only cause them more worry.” Corhan, recovering from the swirling of his head that his impetuous movement had caused, said, “You are right, maiden – Rentha. But it is hard not to be with them at such a time.” “Saban will come and tell you how it is with them”, she assured him, then smiled, and added, “And he is anxious to show you his son!” She turned to Karis, and requested “Karis, could you find some food and drink for Cothan? He needs to build up his strength.” “Of course!” the Swordsman answered, and left the Healing Place. Returning to the Hall, he found others of his family there, and, going to collect the food and drink for Corhan, told Karlin, Zarel and Aren that Corhan was awake and improving. “That is good!” Karlin said, then, “And what of him, and Rentha? Has he been able to say anything to her? I think it may be hard for him to explain.” “I thought so too”, Karis said. “And so, after consideration, I have told Rentha about Corhan’s dream, and that she is his dream-maiden, She has promised to say nothing until he speaks. I was not sure, but I thought it wise. Rentha is happy, for she had begun to feel a pull towards him, and was concerned about it, since she hardly knows him. Now she understands. She is sensible enough to deal with the matter, and it eases the way for Corhan.” Zarel said, “Yes, I think you were right, Karis. My sister is clear-headed and kind-hearted. I see, too, that it would have worried her that she might care for him, when she did not know why, for she is so honest in her dealings with others.” Karis smiled at him.”I am glad you agree with what I did, Zarel. Now I must take this nourishment back to Corhan, so he may grow strong again. He is very anxious to be with the Malani again, but agreed with Rentha that he should not return until he is at full strength, lest they be concerned for him.”

When Karis had left them, Zarel too considered Corhan’s situation. Aren’s Perception, closely linked with his as always, agreed with his decision to do his part too to help to smooth the way for Corhan. Accordingly, Zarel left the others and went to find Arenel and Zohra. He found them in a side room,with Zohra’s father and uncle, who were taking the opportunity to catch up with her news, now that the immediate urgency of helping the refugees was over. They smilingly welcomed the Lightstone-Bearer, and the Kets of the Westerners, after praising him for achieving the end of the Way, were curious about one thing. “These Malani”, said Ket-Kai. “It seems they are our ancient Sword-Brethren, though we knew nothing of them. It would be good to meet them.” Taking advantage of this comment, Zarel said, “It is the Malani I have come to speak to you about. Especially their Lord, Corhan.” Arenel, his Perception sensing that Zarel had something important to say, asked “I Perceive that you have some concern for Corhan, Zarel. I know that he was wounded, for Rentha told us that she was tending him. He has not taken the Wound Fever?” “Oh, no, praise Light. It is well with Corhan – very well. Father, Mother, I wanted to tell you what he told me, when we first met.” He had their attention now, and he went on, telling them about Corhan’s vison-dream, and how he had recognised that Zarel came from the same people as his dream-maiden. Ket-Lai, listening too, asked, “Then we must find his bride among our maidens of the West?” “No!” Zarel laughed. “For when we came through the Gate from Ma’al, Corhan was near collapse, and we called Rentha to tend him. And when he saw her, weak though he was, he knew instantly that she was his dream-maiden.” “Rentha?” Zohra exclaimed, “How wonderful! But has he told her? It will be hard for him to explain, I think.” “And hard to ask your approval of their betrothal” Ket-Kai commented , “since he and his people are new to Li’is and as yet unsure of their place here.” Zarel said “Karis has told Rentha of Corhan’s dream, because he saw that she was beginning to feel attracted to Corhan, and was concerned about it, because she scarcely knew, or had spoken to, him. She has promised to say nothing until Corhan speaks to her. Karis thought to ease Corhan’s way, and that is also why I have told you. As my grandfather says, he may not find it easy to speak to you of their betrothal.” Arenel smiled at Zohra and said, “Then we will say nothing either, my heart, until they come to us, if you agree. Since it is Light’s Will that they should be together, there is nothing to say to a betrothal but yes – but I am not reluctant, Zarel. From all I have heard of Corhan and his Malani, they are true to Light and courageous against Darkness, and that is all we need to know. If Rentha’s heart is given to him, and she will be happy with him. it is well.” Zohra agreed, and added “How marvellous are the ways of Light! Who would have guessed that Corhan would dream of Rentha, so long ago, in Ma’al, and have to be brought into Li’is by Light to find her.” Zarel laughed again. “Those were almost his words, Mother, when I told him who I was, and where I came from.’How shall I search a whole new world?’ he said. And I told him we could easily find his dream-maiden among the Westerners, never guessing it would be my own sister!”

While Karis went to fetch provisions for Corhan, Rentha busied herself about the Healing Place. Corhan was, of necessity, still wearing the dirty clothes in which he had escaped from Ma’al, and she knew he would feel better for a wash and change of clothing, so she looked out a robe which would fit him. She was outwardly calm, and maintaining the pretence that she knew nothing of what Karis had told her, but inwardly her mind was racing. To know that Light had destined her for Corhan in such a strange and miraculous way, though each of them had been in different worlds, not knowing, save for the dream, that either existed, was amazing. Chiefly, though, she felt relief that the tenderness she felt for the Lord of the Malani had a legitimate basis and was not some fantasy of her own mind. Corhan, moving a little on his couch, exclaimed “What is it that you have done to my arm, Rentha? Oh, I do not doubt your skills, but it feels strange.” She went back to him and told him, “I have pinned it, until it starts to heal.” “Pinned?” he queried. “Oh, perhaps you do – did – not use this in Ma’al.” she said. “We use pins to hold the edges of a wound together, until the flesh begins to knit again. They are small, and made of gold, so as not to cause harm. Maybe you feel them pull at the wound a little, but they will not harm you.” “I see”, Corhan said. Karis came back into the Healing Place with the supplies for Corhan, and Rentha told Corhan, “Now you may sit up again, but slowly. You have lain flat a long time, that is why you were dizzy when you sat up quickly before. Karis and I will help you.” This time there were no problems, and Rentha thought there was probably no need to confine Corhan to a couch for too long. When he had eaten, she said “We will try if you are well enough to stand, Corhan. If you are steady on your feet, I will ask Karis to help you to the Bathing Place – the Healing Place has its own. You will feel better if you refresh yourself there, I think.” Corhan grinned. “Indeed I will! I feel as if I have been in these clothes forever.” The experiment in standing was successful, and Rentha smiled and handed Karis the robe for Corhan, saying, “You can help your Sword-Brother, Karis, only do not let the wounded arm become wet. ” “Gladly” Karis answered, then, turning to Corhan, ” Come then, I will show you the Bathing Place. lean on me if you feel the need.” But Corhan was perfectly able to walk unaided, and Rentha, watching their progress towards the Bathing Place, wondered if she were being unnecessarily cautious.

However, when they returned, although he was still walking unaided, Corhan sank down gratefully on the edge of the couch, whose covers Rentha had now replaced with fresh ones, and said, “I would not have believed such a simple task could tire me so! But I am glad to be clean and freshly clothed, Rentha. It was a good thought.” “Then you need a draught, and more rest”, the Healer replied. For a moment he looked a little alarmed, and she laughed “I am not going to send you to sleep again, Corhan! No sweetwood, just another reviving draught.” He laughed too, and Karis thought that their eyes met and lingered for a few seconds.The Swordsman said, “Now that I know all is well with you, Sword-Brother, excuse me if I leave you. There is work to do.” Corhan smiled at him. “Thank you for your help, Karis. Yes, go and help the others. But do not neglect Sharamine!” “Who is Sharamine?” asked Rentha, who had not yet heard their story. Karis replied, “Corhan can tell you, Rentha. It will help pass the time for him.” And also, the Swordsman thought, give them more time together, and perhaps an opportunity for Corhan to speak to Rentha about his vision-dream . He bade them farewell and left the Healing Place. When he had gone, Rentha ordered Corhan back to his couch, while she fetched the draught for him, though she allowed him to sit up, propped on cushions. When he was settled and had drunk the draught, she pulled a bench round to sit beside the couch, and asked, “Now, who is Sharamine? Why was Karis being so mysterious?” Corhan looked across at her and said “Sharamine is a maiden we rescued from the danger of a forced marriage, and to keep her safe, she and Karis were married, by the laws of Ma’al.” “Married?” Rentha exclaimed. “It was to be a sham marriage, to be broken when she was far enough away from her pursuer to be safe”, Corhan explained. “But there was never opportunity to break the marriage, so in a sense they are still wed. But it does not matter, since they have fallen in love. Karis said they can be properly married, here in Li’is, in the sight of Light, and till then they count themselves as betrothed only.” “Then I am glad for Karis” Rentha said, then smiled, “It is just the thing he would do, he is brave and impetuous and cannot bear to see any , person or animal, being hard used. I mind when we were children, how he berated a merchant he thought had overloaded his horse’s wagon!” “He was your playmate, then?” Corhan asked. “Yes, he and Karlin. Though he is really my father’s cousin, he was so much younger that we were all much of an age, Karis and Karlin, Zarel and Aren, Mella and I.” “Now, who is Mella? It is my turn to ask questions.” “Oh, Mella is Karlin’s sister, another Healer.”

Rentha found she was enjoying chatting to Corhan. When he turned his head momentarily she studied the sculpted planes of his face and the slight sheen of his dark skin. He looked back at her and asked more questions. “And your people, the Ketai? They came into Li’is with the Lightfriends, Zarel said, and from what else he said, it seems their way of life is much like ours.” “They are my mother’s people.” Rentha replied. “Their Kets, like my brothers, are twins. The Ket is the Lord of the Westerners, but because my grandfather and great-uncle are twins, they share the Lordship. The Ketai only use that name now for special occasions and ceremonies. They live on the Plateau of the West, and everyone knows them as the Westerners.” “And they are a people who move around, as we do?” Corhan asked. “Most of them, the herdsmen and horse breeders. They need to find grazing for their animals. The Kets, though, and the Elders, keep a fixed camp, so that any problems or disputes may be brought to them. And all the Westerners gather for the Festivals, and the Night of the Warrior Children.” That intrigued him, so she explained the rituals of that Night, and the Sword-Training that followed. She felt he was not only interested in the Westerners in general, but trying to find out some of her own background. She could see now, though, that there was a weariness about his eyes, and said, “Corhan, I was glad to spend this time with you, but you look tired, and need to rest again.” She could tell he was reluctant, but he allowed her to rearrange his cushions so that he could lie down. She pointed out the bell pull that hung over his couch, as over all in the Healing Place, and said, “If you have need, pull on the bell. The Healing Place attendants will be nearby and help you.” “I will”, he said. “But you will come back, Rentha?” He sounded a little anxious, and she said lightly, “Of course! I am in charge of your Healing, am I not?”

Aiel had been trying to decide what offer to make to the Lightfriends of Ma’al. The fact that Dorvai had decidedly placed them under Aiel’s authority, as High Priest of Light in Li’is, made it easier, but he was still unwilling to force any changes on them that they might not wish. He felt that it would be good if all of them, at first, came to the City. Even the thirty mature Lightfriends would need some guidance as to the service of Light in Li’is, and the younger ones, and the Perception-gifted children, would need to complete their training in the Student House. Aiel wanted, too, to receive the Lightfriends into the Priesthood of Li’is, and gift them the robes and circlets that would show everyone that they were Priests of Light, the women too, though that would take some time for the people of Li’is to understand and accept. The Priesthood, though, having learned of their service in Ma’al, and met Moondancer, were already happy about the change. How to spread the news of what had happened to Ma’al, and how those of its people, though few, who were true to Light, had been saved, was another question he needed to answer. However, he had received news, through the Thought-without-Words, from the Priests of the Third Faring House in the Merchant Town, of developments which might help. They reported that travellers to the Faring House had arrived carrying strange news. The Dark Ruins, it seemed, were no more, had disappeared completely, as though the ground had swallowed them up. And the land around them was healing; the Red Forest was changing as its trees came to life, threw off their tainted foliage and put on new, fresh growth. The earth itself had changed, too, from dry, dusty red to healthy soil on which the first blades of grass and colonising wild flowers were making an appearance. Zarel had told Aiel how the Shining One had said that those Dark Ruins were still a foothold for the Dark Lords in Li’is, save that the Dancers guarded the way. With Ma’al now destroyed and the link broken, it was obvious that this last lingering fragment of Ma’al in Li’is had also been destroyed. The comment it had caused, and the rumours which would no doubt be circulating, Aiel thought, would make a basis for the spreading of the story of the refugees. He had told Arentha, Lin and Krystha the news, and they had been glad. Though nothing would erase the memory of what they had experienced in the Dark Ruins, the fact that that awful place had been obliterated, and the land on which it had stood was healing, was some consolation.

Janir and Aila, Mellin and Marla, had rejoiced at the safe return of Karis and Karlin and the reuniting of Karlin and Janna. The added happiness of Karis and Sharamine , as well as the relief and joy of the successful completion of Zarel’s Way, created an aura of wellbeing and contentment over them all. Karlin and Janna had found each other changed by the experience, but in no bad way. Each of them had fought fear and strengthened faith, and matured. Their love was as strong and deep as ever, but had a new dimension. Karlin had told Janna, privately, of what Mihel had said to him. “He told me we would have a long and happy life together, and see our children’s children prosper, my heart. And he is a Spirit-in-Light! So he spoke a prophecy for us.” Janna had been amazed but happy. Sharamine, nervous at first of her reception, had relaxed and blossomed with the welcome of Karis’ family, and the knowledge of his love for her. The two couples, as Lin had suggested, were already planning a joint wedding, when all the many other matters concerning the refugees from Ma’al had been settled. There still was much to do, though. The next morning all of them would be gathered and formally welcomed to Li’is by the Council-at-Need, who had spent some time conferring and trying to put together a comprehensive list of the options available to them. The Lord of the East would welcome any who wished to cross the sea to his lands, though in view of what he had been told, Aiel wondered of any of the refugees would dare entrust themselves to the Eastern lands when they had always been, in Ma’al, a place to be dreaded and shunned, as the seat of the Dark Lords. There would be places on the Watches for any Swordsmen and their families who wished to take them, and of the twelve, including Talar and Lorin, two were very young, though they had fought valiantly, and might benefit from more Sword-Training. Corhan and his Malani would wish to stay together as a people, and would need to find a place where they could do so. Farmers and craftsmen would no doubt be easier to find places for. But Aiel was adamant that none should be forced or cajoled in their choice of home. “They have lived under oppression long enough, with no freedom to live their lives as they wished”, the High Priest said. Lin said, thoughtfully, “That other place….where Ma’al was. I wonder – all who served Light have left it , and though Ma’al is destroyed, surely it can be nothing now but the realm of Darkness.” Aiel, though, disagreed. “There is Darkness there, yes, but nowhere is out of the reach of Light, Lin, for Light is everywhere. There may yet be hope for that other realm.” “The Secret Word has been fulfilled, though.” Lin answered.” We have seen the end of Ma’al, and surely this is the beginning that was spoken of too, a new life for the people of Ma’al who were loyal to Light.” “That is true.” Aiel responded. “Yet in the First Days, Rafel, Brann and Tamorine penned the Secret Word without knowing what would come of it. There may be things yet to come that we will never know.” He smiled, then, and added, “But you are right, Lin, for we need not concern ourselves with such things. We can rejoice in what Light has done, and make our plans for the present times.”

Published by afaithbasedfantasytrilogy

I'm first and foremost a Christian. I'm also a widow, mother of 5, grandmother of 9, and a retired school librarian.

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